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New paper in Science introduces revolutionary new paradigm for fishery management

July 16, 2004

MIAMI, July 16, 2004 ~ Seventeen of the world's top marine scientists today unveiled a plan that seeks to avert the collapse of fish populations by focusing on managing the entire ecosystem rather than one species at a time. The new management regime, coined Ecosystem-Based Fishery Management,is detailed in the July 16 issue of Science (vol. 305, no. 5682, July 16) and is the first step toward revolutionizing the way fisheries are managed to ensure long-lasting sustainability.

This significant advancement would overturn the paradigm of maximizing the catch of individual species that has prevailed for more than half a century. National legislation to promote the use of ecosystem-based fishery management is expected by September in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

The consensus statement by prominent fishery experts representing 14 research institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, delineates an inclusive approach to fishery management that would balance economic and environmental concerns. It places paramount importance on the overall health of ecosystems, and then considers factors such as predator-prey relationships among species, the quality of the habitat they rely upon, the direct and indirect effects of fish capture methods, and finally, the target species itself.

"We've been putting blinders on, but it is now clear that single-species management is inadequate, and in many cases, destructive," says Dr. Ellen Pikitch, an internationally renowned fisheries scientist and the Executive Director and Professor with the Pew Institute for Ocean Science at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science. Pikitch, the lead author on the paper also noted: "An ecosystem-based approach is founded on the notion that robust fisheries depend upon healthy marine ecosystems."

Movement towards ecosystem-based approaches has been recommended by the Pew Oceans Commission in 2003, in the recently released draft report of the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy, and in a number of international arenas. Some elements of the approach are already being implemented in California, Alaska and Australia.

The authors write, "Ideally, EBFM would shift the burden of proof so that fishing would not take place unless it could be shown not to harm key components of the ecosystem." In addition, an ecosystem-focused approach would stimulate research about ecosystem processes and the likely consequences of human actions.

"Ecosystem-based fishery management can be implemented right now, even in cases where very little information is available," says Pikitch. "Because of the complexity and uncertainty about marine ecosystems, this approach will inevitably require erring on the side of caution."

Managers would need to pay closer attention to the entire food web, such as to prey species critical to the endangered Steller Sea Lion in Alaska, and to bycatch (non-targeted species) such as white marlin, which has been inadvertently decimated because of tuna and swordfish fishing.

"Overfishing top predators like marlins is dangerous, because these species fill a vital role in marine food webs," says co-author Dr. Elizabeth Babcock, Chief Scientist with the Pew Institute for Ocean Science at the Rosenstiel School. Babcock attributes over 90 percent of the annual mortality of white marlin to the tuna and swordfish longline fisheries.

Although moving to ecosystem-based fishery management will not be easy, the report's authors stress that it should begin immediately, because the potential benefits trump the status quo of species-focused management.

The authors include three winners of the highly prestigious award from the Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation that became part of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science in October 2003. They are Paul Dayton from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Burr Heneman from Commonweal, a health and environmental research institute in California, and Pikitch.

For interviews with authors of the paper, illustrations and photographs contact Jim Harper at 305-361-4165 or The Science paper is available by request from the AAAS Office of Public Programs at 202-326-6440 or, or can be viewed on-line at Science Magazine.

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